I’m a student and a problem solver. At times, these two qualities work together without me really knowing it. One example has to do with an understanding about Social Media and its effects on relationships and the depth of relationships at the workplace.

As someone who is engaged with social media on a daily basis, I’ve been taking stock of how those tools have been effecting my relationships with people – specifically two groups:

  1. Real-time, current friends| We get to post things like what our kids are doing or where we ate last night or how well we liked a particular movie. We may even share a link to an online resource that we think others might like. We engage in “conversation” about these things and this allows us to share our lives through a series of posts.The net effect is that when we get together face-to-face, we can engage in that 2nd level of conversation that lives below the chit chat because we’ve already seen that stuff online.
  2. Distant friendships | Social media allows a re-connection to those friends that have moved away or, for whatever reason, you don’t get to see on a regular basis. The pics of kids and stories about summer vacations and the awesome steak they grilled last night remind of how things used to be and keep the connection alive even at great distance.

These aspects of social media on relationships are profound when you consider cultural changes. For example: I could see how some people could prioritize relationships based on engagement with social media as a way to maximize the value of face time. Another aspect is that social media allows us to find relationships out of common interests and passions (how did we do this before the Internet?).

As a student, I’ve simply realized that social media can influence the depth of a relationship with someone else in your social media sphere.

Relationships at the office can, at times, feel shallow and dry. Some make that a conscious choice because they want to compartmentalize their lives into categories that don’t mesh with one another. I get that, and even agree with it when it comes to certain situations – think office romance and the need to place a wide margin around inappropriate situations.

I think; however, that most people would like a more personal relationship – possibly a friendship with those they spend more waking hours with than anyone else. But given the habits of a social media-minded person outside of work, there simply isn’t a way to share the context of life’s everyday occurrences in the professional environment.

So there’s no way for our co-workers to know that we’re about to eat our 3yr old for their bad behavior or that our mother is in the hospital and may not live another week. This contextual ignorance keeps our interactions about what we did last weekend and what we’re having for lunch.

I think it is high time for the professional workplace to adopt a relaxed attitude when it comes to providing the tools and encouraging the freedom to add a bit of that context. Probably not full-blown Facebook-style open access, but more than the revenue figures of the deal you just closed.

Somewhere in the middle, we need to start telling our stories to one another…to allow our co-workers a perspective from our shoes if you will. The relational benefit to business this can bring about could be:

  • More effective teams | They care about one another’s success and competition is to see how high the team can rise.
  • Better work/life balance | We can look out for one another and have the relational capital to encourage that balance.
  • Compassion and sensitivity | With context comes a willingness to help each other through the rough places in life.

The list can go on as the benefits of knowing one another are vast. Culturally speaking, this makes for an environment where people feel they have some influence and that people care about them as a person. And that, as they say, is a game changer.

Businesses live and die because of people and the culture of a business is a barometer that tells you just how your people are doing. Heed those indicators well and remember that culture is never perfect.